Someone recently asked me if I had accomplished anything “of note.” They asked me this after I had already mentioned the Yale Prize, meaning to them that wasn’t impressive. They were wondering if I’d had a NY premiere or sold a show. I said no. And then they said, “It gets harder when you’re older. You don’t want to be 35 with nothing to show for it.” I stared back at my computer kind of stunned.
And here I thought I had done well.
Probably because I’ve been trying not to think about my life and the choices I’ve made, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my career. Is it DOA? As I’m looking at fellowships, I’m realizing that there isn’t really a word for what I am. I still feel like I’m emerging but according to the applications, that’s not me anymore. I’ve had Apologies, WIWP, and Abortion Road Trip fully produced. If we count virtual productions (and we are), I’ve had Breathe Me In, Last Night, and Black Mexican* produced as well. That’s six different plays. That knocks me out of the running for a lot of things.
But I’m not established or mid-career because I’ve never had a New York premiere.
To be honest, I’ve always hated the way theatre centers New York and Chicago as if theatre can’t possibly exist somewhere else. I used to like to pretend like I was the one who was turning down New York theatres. Like I was taking a stand against prioritizing the city by not having my work there. The truth is I have been submitting for years. They weren’t interested. If I had centered my career around NY theatres, I wouldn’t have a career.
And frankly, I love that my work has been done all over the country and not just in one place. I had a map up at one point and put a sticker in each state that had a reading, workshop, anything and by the time I was done I had a sticker in 45 states. That’s amazing.
Or at least I thought it was.
Something I have a bad habit of saying is “I don’t know what I want to do.” My therapist from a few years back pointed out that that wasn’t true. Sure, in my mid 20s, I wasn’t super sure what I wanted to do and I kept changing my mind but around 28, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I want to write plays and hang out with my friends and de-center work and focus on the living part of life.
The problem is I don’t really know anyone who is making a living on playwriting alone. Or one of the problems. The other problem is I still can’t seem to finish anything.
So TV writing makes sense right? That should be what I pivot to and try to do both?
Well, I’ve tried. The problem is I am nothing impressive to TV folks. Many of my generals drag because they’re waiting for me to surprise/impress them and I’m just trying not to cry because for the first time in my life I am not special in any way and we both know it. They say it’s because I don’t have spec script that I’m not getting picked up but I keep hearing about playwrights who also don’t have spec scripts who jump from room to room, playwrights who have their plays picked up, making pitches…
So if the problem isn’t the spec script, then the problem is me…right?
It’s hard not to be done with all of it. Even the shows I’ve been up for tend to center Black trauma. It’s like TV execs were like “we can have a break from trauma for 1 year but then let’s go back to making black stories that center whiteness because that’s what the people want to see.”
Which ultimately is my biggest problem with TV. So much of it is not about if the show is good or if it’s revolutionary. It’s about “will people watch it?” And we’re not talking 100s; we’re talking millions. Which includes your kind of racist aunt Kathy who still talks about how she loved Obama because he was so well-spoken and together but can’t stand Kamala Harris because she seems too angry. That includes your boss who has a black lives matter sticker but doesn’t understand why a black woman would want to paid as much as her white male counterpart…Will they watch a show that centers Black joy and isn’t about white people at all or will they watch a show that triggers their white guilt like some sort of gross kink?
We both know the answer.
I was happiest when I was doing my own thing. RLTC wasn’t perfect but it felt like we were on the right track. I wish I could find a way to make that more stable but it was only 3 of us and we got burned out so quickly. Or at least I got burned out so quickly and even though we were bringing in money it was never enough. And we can’t apply for grants until we’ve existed for 3 years…
Every I turn it’s another brick wall.
When I say “I don’t know what I want to do” what I really mean is “Theatre doesn’t pay and also tells me I’m too produced and not produced enough. TV couldn’t give a sh*t about me. But I need to pay rent and take care of my cats so I do need to work but I don’t want my life to be about work. But I also want a relatively good life. So I don’t know what to do about being old news in a field I’ve given my whole life to.”
2021 has been trash through and through and I cannot wait for this year to be over. While this isn’t my end-of-the-year post, I will say I hope I can leave all this in 2021 and just figure out how to live a life that doesn’t get consumed by work and that I figure out how to do what makes me happy and not what makes me feel “unimpressive.”
*Black Mexican was a workshop production. And really it was supposed to be a full production but I was asked to change the wording around it by 3 different opportunities I was up for and then ended up getting none of them so honestly, I wish I’d kept it as a production.